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Labor Party unites against Jon Stanhope

The ACT Labor Party has closed ranks against former chief minister Jon Stanhope's attempt to rekindle debate on selling the Labor clubs, with almost every elected ACT politician, national and local, refusing comment on the issue.

Nor has Mr Stanhope won friends among federal colleagues with his backing of self-government for Norfolk Island, prompting Senator Kate Lundy to hit out at him for criticising her stance without making contact.

Mr Stanhope put a motion to his Labor sub-branch last week, calling on the party to sever its reliance on gambling money by selling the Labor Club Group, which is a big owner of poker machines in Canberra.

His motion was defeated 16 votes to seven, with one abstention, at the Mount Rogers sub-branch. Two sitting Assembly members, Mary Porter and Chris Bourke, attended the meeting, but neither would discuss their reasons for attending, nor their views about whether the clubs should be sold.

Ms Porter's husband Ian De Landelles, who with Ms Porter is a member of the party's right, confirmed he had spoken against Mr Stanhope's move to sell the clubs.

Mr Bourke said he would not discuss internal party matters, but he wouldn't explain why he viewed the ownership of the Labor clubs as a purely internal matter.


The Canberra Times asked each of the sitting Assembly Labor members and the three federal members, Ms Lundy, Gai Brodtmann and Andrew Leigh, for their views. The response was uniform: the sale of the Labor clubs was a matter for the board and the members. 

Mr Stanhope has described this argument as nonsense, given that six of the nine members of the board, including its chairman, are appointed by the party at its annual conference and are apportioned among the party's factions.

Labor politicians said question should be directed not to them but to ACT party secretary Matt Byrne. But Mr Byrne also refused comment, beyond saying the motion had been put, defeated and dealt with. 

The three Labor clubs own 488 poker machines, which make $25 million a year.

Mr Stanhope, who tried to have the clubs sold when he was chief minister, argues it is untenable, politically and morally, for the party to continue relying on poker machine money, and also unnecessary, given the plan to increase public funding for political parties from $2 to $8 for each vote next year.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said on Tuesday it was a matter for the board and the members.

"I'm not in a position to direct the Labor club board to do anything and nor will I," he said.

Asked about the way the party had closed ranks against Mr Stanhope's attempt to generate debate, Mr Barr said: "Jon is one of nearly 2000 members of the Labor Party and one of, I understand, 60,000 or 70,000 members of the Labor Club. As a former chief minister, I know there's interest in his views, but Jon is that, a former chief minister. He's put his view to his local Labor Party branch. It wasn't supported."

Mr Stanhope was more successful with his motion to back self-government for Norfolk Islanders, which was overwhelmingly supported by the branch meeting. It is directed at the stance taken by Senator Lundy and Ms Brodtmann, both of whom were part of a federal parliamentary inquiry that recommended the abolition of the government as soon as possible and its replacement with an interim administration, transitioning to "a local government-type body".

Senator Lundy hit back, saying she was disappointed Mr Stanhope had not called her about the issue, despite her membership of the external territories committee for two decades.

Ms Brodtmann said Mr Stanhope was entitled to his position, but "we've just got different world views" on the right government model for Norfolk Island.

She had visited the island 10 times during her time in Parliament and each time the deterioration in the island's economy was more obvious – with shops closing, roads needing maintenance, failing infrastructure and falling tourism, she said.

"I'm a strong supporter of self-government fundamentally, but it's clear to me that the current arrangements aren't meeting the basic needs of Norfolk Island residents," she said. "The current model isn't sustainable."

There would be "some sort of form of governance on the island" developed in close consultation with the islanders, she said. She wanted them better integrated with the mainland, giving access to mainland healthcare, education funding and infrastructure, and access to the island for cruise ships.

"Jon is entitled to his view. He feels very passionately about governance, particularly in the external territories, particularly as a result of his time on Christmas Island, but I also feel very passionate about it, too, and I want the right thing for the people on Norfolk Island," she said.